U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL
When Jim Merrill’s Number One candidate, Mitt Romney, decided not to run for President, his phone started ringing.
Merrill, regarded as a top notch Republican political operative in the first-in-the nation primary state, ended up choosing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to support and work for because, Merrill told the New Hampshire Journal, Rubio represents a “new generation” of Republican leadership for the United States, and has a personal “inherent decency” that reminded him of Romney.
Merrill is a big catch for Rubio as he builds a campaign for President. After Romney decided not to run, Merrill was pursued by several other top tier likely presidential candidates, including, the New York Times reported, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rubio’s one-time mentor.
There had been speculation that Bush’s entry into the race could keep Rubio out, but Rubio, 43, had repeatedly stated that Bush’s entry would have no effect on his decision, and now the hiring of Merrill makes it clear that Rubio will indeed be a candidate.
Merrill confirmed the Times’ report that he will be a senior adviser to Rubio in New Hampshire and the rest of the Northeast – first through Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC and then, as is expected, a formal presidential campaign. He held a similar top advisory/consultant position for Romney’s 2012 campaign, in which Romney won the New Hampshire primary and the GOP nomination, and in 2008 was Romney’s campaign manager when Romney finished second in New Hampshire to John McCain.
The New Hampshire primary is expected to be held a year from today.
“This is just the right fit,” Merrill told the Journal. He recalled meeting Rubio at an event at Brown’s Lobster Pound in Seabrook in 2012, when Merrill advised candidate for governor Ovide Lamontagne’s campaign.
“Even at that time I thought, ‘This guy is special,’ and I had known some of his people. I then got to know him and this people better when he was campaigning for our (New Hampshire) ticket in 2014. I like him as a person and I like him as a leader and as the face of the future generation of leaders of this country,” Merrill said.
Merrill is confident Rubio can do well in New Hampshire – and helping him do well will be Merrill’s top responsibility.
“He is someone who combines great substance with a tremendous ability as a communicator and he has proven he can connect with voters of all stripes,” Merrill said. “Obviously, New Hampshire will be fiercely competitive and there are a lot of great candidates who are looking to get into the race.
“If he does run,” Merrill said, “he will do it the old-fashioned way, door-to-door, person-to-person. He understands that is the level of intimacy needed in a campaign, he appreciates that and that is the way he has run his campaigns” in Florida.
“The bottom line is that New Hampshire is wide open,” Merrill said. “We have had recent surveys showing that the lid is now at about 15 percent (for Republican likely candidates) and the voters will have a real opportunity to consider a broad range of candidates.”
The most recent poll of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters – by Purple Insights for Bloomberg Politics and Saint Anselm College, announced Sunday – placed Rubio at 5 percent, with Bush at 16 percent, Rand Paul at 13 percent, Scott Walker at 12, Chris Christie at 10 percent, with Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson at 6 percent. And 52 percent of likely GOP primary voters polled viewed Rubio favorably and only 14 percent unfavorably.
For full poll results, click here.
Merrill said the biggest challenge Rubio faces is that he “comes into this race probably with less name ID than a Jeb Bush or a Scott Walker or a Chris Christie, and that is a process that takes time.
“But as you look at the early indications, he is seen favorably by the voters. And if he does run, I think New Hampshire voters are ready to give him a fair shot and will see him as an extraordinary leader, a patriot and a great communicator.”
Merrill said Rubio and Romney both have an “inherent decency. I have seen first-hand the quality of the person he is, a family man. I also think you saw the two of them get along on the campaign trail.
“I believe the Romney coalition, which saw him get nearly 40 percent (in the 2012 primary), those folks are going to be interested in Marco Rubio,” said Merrill.
Merrill is the first top adviser with allegiance to Romney to sign on with another likely candidate since Romney announced on Jan. 30 he will not make a third attempt for The White House.
The day before Romney’s announcement, former Romney Iowa adviser David Kochel signed on with Bush. Merrill and Kochel are known to be friends, leading to short-lived speculation that Merrill would eventually also sign on with the former Florida governor, who continues to seek a top New Hampshire adviser.
Rubio will be in the state on Feb. 23 for a book signing for new book, “American Dreams.” More events are expected to be added to his schedule.